Proper 15 C 2004 Hebrews 12:1-14; Luke 12:49-56
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that
clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter
of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross….
“Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses comes
very close to describing what was observed and felt during our session earlier this week at Shrine Mont. Shrine Mont, a place
set apart for rest, devotion, fellowship, learning, and education, where all may grow in the grace of God. Shrinemont --
a place set apart for recreation – and re-creation.
Shrine Mont is a place where people are more important than things, where prayer and reflection, rest and recreation are
more important than appointments and tasks. It’s a place where people give thanks to God for his creation -- from
the beauty of the streams, flowers and wildlife which are at home here, to the people who come to this place set apart to
celebrate being part of the family of God. (1)
It was interesting to read the two creation stories from Genesis as part of our morning worship in the Cathedral Shrine
of the Transfiguration. More than interesting as we sat in that open air cathedral on the mountainside surrounded on two
sides by forest and on the other sides by the cabins and houses of old Shrine Mont, and heard the great Creation stories and
gospel lections from Luke and Matthew, the first on the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, the second on being like little
children and the third on the Great Commission. It all seemed to fit so well surrounded as we were by so great a cloud of
witnesses in heaven – to which we felt especially close – and on earth.
For me personally it was wonderful to celebrate Holy Communion in this lovely place. I had never been the celebrant in
a Cathedral before. And the Cathedral Shrine of the Diocese of Virginia is a very special place. It was built before Shrine
Mont itself was established. Completed in 1925 using local labor it was consecrated as the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration
on August 6, 1925 – the day of the Feast of the Transfiguration. An 51 year old priest, a one legged man who was
lame, and his 16 year old son who seemed to have hookworm anemia had dug the foundation the year before. From foundation
to cross on top of the high bell tower, and including altar, lectern, and pulpit, the Cathedral Shrine was built of the native
stones lying about on the mountainside on which it was built. (2)
Speaking of a great cloud of witnesses, the Cathedral Shrine is the where the closing event of Saint George’s
Camp takes place. For those who worry about the future of the Church, this event alone is enough to bear witness to the future
health of the Church. I have been at two of them – some years ago when Randall McNees finished his first year there.
And the second time was Tuesday morning. It was a great cloud of witnesses of young people singing and praying, as they introduced
themselves – yes, every one of the Saint George campers, cabin by cabin. And then celebrated Holy Communion. They
themselves were surrounded by parents and friends – standing room only.
It was a powerful and holy moment each time I have witnessed this event to see young people who will be the future leadership
of the Church when most of us here at Wicomico Parish lay down our share of the burden. We and the Church will be in good
hands. They are bright, devout, full of energy and growing wisdom.
We worshiped our Lord in the Cathedral Shrine every morning we were there, right after breakfast at nine o’clock.
On a plaque nailed to a tree at the rear of the Cathedral Shrine was written this: “The ground whereon thou standest
is holy ground” – God’s announcement to Moses from the burning bush. I have always felt that
Shrine Mont is holy ground especially the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, a place where I have spent many hours in
quiet and joyful contemplation and meditation.
As we said our last Morning Prayer on Thursday morning, the Saint George’s camp councilors gathered in the rainy
weather chapel behind the cathedral. The chapel windows were open and they sang almost the whole time we were worshipping.
It was like having our own private angelic chorus, singing in the background, providing choral counter point to the stateliness
of the spoken Morning Prayer. We really didn’t want to leave after the last Amen.
The priest who helped dig the foundations was the Reverend Dr. Edmund Lee Woodward, also a medical doctor who had been
a missionary to China until 1914. He oversaw the entire construction of the Cathedral Shrine. About the Shrine Dr. Woodward
later wrote: “Here, if anywhere, ‘earth’s crammed with heaven’ and the Imminent Spirit
of God, to the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and the understanding heart, sleeps in the mossy stones, dreams in the woodland
creatures, and awakens in the worshipping children of men. Here rises in one majestic harmony the Benedicite of all Creation,
O all ye works of the Lord, Bless ye the Lord, Praise him and Magnify Him forever.” (3)
It is still that way. Dr. Woodward’s vision extended beyond the Cathedral Shrine. The Shrine, as he saw
it, was a place where men could reach out to God and where God would touch the hearts of men and send them back, down into
the world, refreshed, restored, and inspired to work His works and bear witness to his redeeming power.
Two mighty Acts of God, related in Holy Scripture, the account of the Transfiguration, where our Lord's Divine Nature
was revealed to chosen witnesses in startling glory, and the account of Pentecost (Whitsunday), where the assembled waiting
Church was empowered of the Spirit to go forth boldly into a sinful world, and manifest before men the forgiving, sanctifying,
and saving power of Christ. The first, the Transfiguration, produced the Shrine; the second, the power of Pentecost, would
be continued, God willing, in establishing Shrine Mont itself.
In 1928 Shrine Mont was established as an institution, consisting of the Cathedral Shrine, a kitchen and refectory dining
room, a swimming pool, and five cottages. The next year four more cottages were added plus over a hundred acres, which allowed
Dr. Woodward to erect Saint George’s Cross on the crest of what was now named Shrine Mont Mountain and accommodate
one hundred people over night. In September 1929 Dr. Woodward deeded Shrine Mont to the Trustees of the Diocesan Missionary
Society to hold title for the Diocese. (4)
I first went to Shrine Mont in the late Spring of 1975 to present myself before BACAM, the Bishops’ advisory
Committee on Aspirants for the Ministry. Snow was still on the ground but early crocuses were pushing their heads through
the crust. I recognized how special a place it was from the beginning. It was then I first saw the Shrine, then only fifty
years old – it is now almost eighty years old. Derspite the fact that the then Bishop of Virginia told me to finish
my Army career and come back to him later, which I did, Shrine Mont remains a special place – a piece of holy ground
– in my heart. My heart always rises to meet them as the mountains rise up from the horizon on my way there.
But I want to tell you that the most special time so far was last week when we gathered, ten adults, one teenager, and
three children, for Bible School and for the restorative power of Shrine Mont itself. We were all involved in Bible School
beginning with our morning worship all together, then various activities during the morning, much art work, swimming, mountain
climbing, and hiking. We all drove to Jerome where we stood on the grounds of Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church, on
a hill in a valley surrounded by ranges of mountains in serried array. The younger children played on the play ground there
and did some art work; the rest of us helped with them or did our own art work depicting the glory of that small part of God’s
The late afternoon and evening gathering on the porch and front lawn of one of our two cottages allowed those of us who
had come to Shrine Mont to engage in fellowship and long conversations. We drew closer together as the place spun its spell
around us. We have reserved time for the second week in August next year. Y’all come.
The deeds for Shrine Mont say this:
Shrine Mont: "A Place Apart-for Rest, Devotion, and Fellowship, for the fulfillment of the following PURPOSE:
"To voice the Master's Call: 'Come ye apart and rest awhile,' To establish at the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration
an Enduring Fellowship: a place of charm on a Mount of Vision, of communing about the deep things of God, the more abundant
life, the more fruitful ministry, and the Unity and Mission of the Church; a place hallowed in the fellowship of the Saints,
whence chosen witnesses, delivered from the disquietude of this world, 'May Behold the King in His Beauty'."
_"And the property shall be held in Trust, in perpetuity, for the purpose aforesaid." (5)
So great a cloud of witnesses. Come and see.
2. George J. Cleaveland, The Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration and Shrinemont, printed at Shenandoah Publishing
House, n.c., n.d., p. 34.
3. Ibid., p. 44
4. Ibid., pp. 45-47.
5. Ibid., p. vi.